One of the Buddha’s teachings was:
“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.”
I love that. If you observe families with strong bonds close enough, at some point you will see a common thread emerge. They share meals together.
Gathering around the family table is a common event.
Robert Putnam gives us a little insight into why a shared meal is so powerful.
After interviewing over 500,000 people, Putnam argues that our social media driven lives have actually disconnected us from one another. The incredible thing about his insight is that his book, “Bowling Alone,” was written in 2000. Long before social media channels we are familiar with were popular.
We can 10x’s that today.
It seems our leisure time is occupied with things that disconnect us rather than bring us together. Television, surfing the internet, … it all keeps us from connecting.
As one writer put it, ‘We text and tweet instead of talk!’
It makes you wonder if most of our depression, anxiety and neurosis is not because of our lifestyle of disconnection.
How does this apply to mealtime?
Columbia University found that teenagers who regularly shared a meal with their family were 40% more likely to get better grades (A’s and B’s).
They were also less likely to pick up self destructive, addictive behavior. Think smoking, over drinking, and drug abuse.
On the flip side, Pediatrics [Magazine] found that girls with eating disorders often ate alone (not having meals with family).
It’s also well known that when eating alone we eat more junk food, which contributes to other health problems.
Here’s a frightening statistic: The average parent only spends a little over 38 minutes a week…a WEEK…in ‘meaningful conversation’ with their children. This fact led Harvard University research in 1996 to say family dinners are more important than playing with your children (or other family activities). (Source) (Source)
Fond Memories Over a Shared Meal
Some of my fondest memories as a young boy were shared with one of my earliest friends, Johnny. We were actually ‘crib babies’ together.
Our parents live across the street from each other when we were infants, so our moms put us in the crib together so they could talk and visit during the day.
Our families are still close today.
As we grew older, our families regularly spent holidays together. We were part of their family traditions (always having Christmas with ‘their extended’ family, and they were a part of our extended family.
Johnny and I hunted together, played sports together, double dated and even learned to play the guitar together.
On certain weekends our families would get together and share a meal. I mean a feast. I remember many times digging a hole in the ground so we could have a pit barbeque.
Those mealtimes were special. We laughed. Listened to our dads tell stories (most of them we weren’t sure we believed) and played together. Those times together bonded us.
We were family.
Looking back, one of the dynamics that kept us close throughout the years was sharing meals together.
There is something about eating together that connects us.
In her Honors College Graduate dissertation for Western Kentucky University, Rebecca Katz talks about the power of community that is established by simply eating together.
Why are Family Meals Important
There are many reasons to invest in mealtime together. Here’s a few you should consider:
Helps establish and carry on family traditions.
Traditions are the anchors that keep us grounded and connected in life. Beginning a morning breakfast tradition (even if it’s only once a week), will help you establish an anchor that keeps you from drifting apart.
Involves all the senses (sight, touch, sound, taste and smell) as a way of connecting with each other.
Because we are busy we tend to relate in small bites of information. Yet, information doesn’t always mean connection. Meal time forces us to take our time and share on a level that goes beyond ‘information transmission.’ We engage our emotions when we share a meal.
Allows for a time for the family to talk, connect and share important events of life.
Breakfast with your spouse gives you the opportunity to catch up. It helps build bridges for us to bring our spouse into our world.
Joy, worship, appreciation and adoration are all emotions that are unfulfilled until they are expressed and shared with others. Mealtime gives us opportunity to express ourselves.
Gives us time for check up and check in.
Slowing down and sharing a meal gives us an opportunity to see how our spouse is doing. It’s easy to get so caught in our own world (work demands, etc) that we fail to explore what is happening with our spouse. Breakfast connects us first thing in the morning.
Builds a ‘protective factor’ into our relationship.
Studies show that children who have mealtime regularly with their parents feel more secure and develop better psychologically. It gives them boundaries of security. Same applies to marriage.
When we make it a habit to eat breakfast together, we build a fence of protection around our relationship. It creates an atmosphere of security in our marriage.
Strengthens our bond.
A Columbia University study indicates that 71% of teenagers said they consider talking/catching-up, and spending time with family members as the best part of family dinners. Translate this to breakfast with your spouse; when we start the day with a meal together as husband and wife, we connect and strengthen the bond of our relationship.
Making breakfast a priority with our spouse makes a statement that our marriage is worth our time and energy. We invest in what we value. By taking time to start our day with breakfast together, we are declaring our love, appreciation and value for one another.
How to Have a Family Meal Together
Here’s a short list of practical steps to take to start a mealtime ritual for your family.
1. Make it a Priority.
We only give ourselves to what we value. Since your marriage is the most important earthly relationship in your life, commit to making it a priority.
2. Start Small.
It may take time to get used to getting up earlier than normal in order to have breakfast with your spouse. Start small. Begin by setting aside one day a week to have breakfast.
My wife and I do this on Saturdays. We don’t allow anything to get in the way of our weekend breakfast meal.
Because we have made this a priority, we find ourselves often slowing down during the week to have breakfast. Especially when one of us needs to connect or share something ‘big.’ By the way, we always (ALWAYS) have dinner together. Even if it’s late. This is our way of closing the day. Another great tradition that keeps us connected.
3. Keep it Fun.
We all have ‘heavy things’ that need to be discussed occasionally. But try to make your breakfast time fun. Do your best to keep it light.
How you begin the day determines how the day is spent. So start well.
4. Take it Slow.
This is not a time to rush. Don’t eat standing. This is a statement I’ve often used to describe people who always seem to be in a rush.
You’ve met them I’m sure. They always seem to be hurried. If they are with you, they are thinking about someone else. If they are with someone else, they think about you.
Breakfast with your spouse is a time to focus on them. No rush. No hurry. Just spending time together. Remember, time is a currency; so spend it wisely.
5. Plan It and Announce It
Planning ahead to make sure your time together is important. Especially if you are just starting a mealtime habit.
Let your family know it’s important, have them put it on their calendar.
The key is to let them know this is a high priority and you are making plans for the family to ‘be together’ during meals.
Why is sharing a meal so important?
I’m sure there are a lot of psychological reasons. Many are mentioned above (or below).
What I find interesting is that a study done by Kevin Kniffin and Brian Wansink, found that sharing a meal was more intimate than many other forms of communication.
They surveyed 79 people by asking a series of questions to determine how jealous they would be in certain situations.
For example, they compared emailing, texting, calling, having coffee, or sharing a meal with an ‘ex’ or a person of the opposite sex. They rated the persons response on a scale of 1-5 to measure how jealous they would be.
The overwhelming result was sharing a meal meant more than ‘just eating together.’ It’s not just ‘having lunch.’ Mealtime is far more intimate.
Why not capitalize on this by intentionally making time for your spouse first thing in the morning.
I believe the benefits are worth the effort.
The Purpose of the Table
I want to close with the following quote from Barry Jones.
In an article for DTS Magazine he tells the story of the first table he and his young wife purchased.
It became a centerpiece for their relationship, as well as fellowship with their friends. Sharing meals together. Laughing. Crying. Talking for hours on end.
As he reminisces about that first table, he shares these thoughts:
To take up a place at that table was (is) to occupy sacred space. The people we loved most sat with us there. Meals were shared. Stories were told. Sins were confessed. We laughed together and cried together. Together we remembered where we’d been, and we dreamed of where we might one day go. We prayed at that table. And there we experienced God’s nearness, God’s kindness, and God’s love.
Sharing tables is one of the most uniquely human things we do. No other creature consumes its food at a table. And sharing tables with other people reminds us that there’s more to food than fuel. We don’t eat only for sustenance.
I’m convinced that one of the most important spiritual disciplines for us to recover in the kind of world in which we live is the discipline of table fellowship.
In the fast-paced, tech-saturated, attention-deficit-disordered culture in which we find ourselves, Christians need to recover the art of a slow meal around a table with people we care about.
I like that. A slow meal around a table with people we care about.
Wrapping It UP
What better way to start than by beginning your day with your spouse over breakfast.
Here’s what we covered in this article:
- Helps establish and carry on family traditions.
- Involves all the senses (sight, touch, sound, taste and smell) as a way of connecting with each other.
- Allows for a time for the family to talk, connect and share important events of life.
- Enhances enjoyment.
- Gives us time for check up and check in.
- Builds a ‘protective factor’ into our relationship.
- Strengthens our bond.
- Creates value.
Do you have a mealtime routine with your family?
If not, what is the biggest obstacle you face in establishing one?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
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